How Can I Minimize the Risk of My Cancer Coming Back?
As a breast cancer survivor, you probably look at life differently than before. You may have tried living well before your diagnosis, but now a healthy lifestyle becomes even more important in helping to limit the risk of your cancer recurring. Research backs up what you already know, that weight, diet, exercise, and making informed choices can play a big part in reducing your risk of recurrence and help you maintain your status as a survivor!
1. Eating Well (and Drinking).
A healthy diet is something that would benefit everyone. For breast cancer survivors, eating well takes on a much greater significance. Diet fads come and go, but some basic views have held up over time. Focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Besides reducing your risk of cancer recurrence, they contribute to your health and they taste good! Choose poultry and fish over red meat or processed meats.
Read the nutrition labels on food packages – the amount of excess sodium is always surprising. Your body needs some dietary fat, but fats come in both good and bad varieties. Stick with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, while limiting unhealthy saturated and trans-fats. As always, talk to your healthcare team about your dietary choices.
What goes hand-in-hand with eating? Drinking! You already know the benefits of staying hydrated. Water is essential to life. But how about alcohol? Alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of getting cancer in the first place, so if, as a survivor, you are going to drink, it is probably best to follow the experts’ recommendations and limit alcohol to one drink per day (or less).
Maintaining a healthy body weight in the wake of cancer treatment – and menopause — may be challenging. But, remember, accepting and facing down a challenge is what makes you a cancer survivor! You don’t have to look like a fashion model or a top athlete, but your weight does affect the general state of your health, and excess body fat has been linked to higher insulin and estrogen levels in women, both of which can increase the risk of breast cancer. Talk to your healthcare team about how to shed pounds, or at least not add any.
Physical activity makes you feel better. It combats fatigue and can help you function at a higher level. It may also play a role in keeping your cancer from coming back. Maybe you won’t be running a marathon (or maybe you will), but even a regular regimen of walking, swimming, biking, or whatever you choose may reduce your risk of recurrence.
Vigorous activity is probably better than taking it slow and easy, but again, your healthcare team can assess your situation and help you build a program that works for you.
4. Vitamins, Herbs, and Hype… Oh, My!
Here is a short list of dietary supplements that are touted by some people to fight off cancer: Garlic, algae, flax seed, ginger, green tea, selenium, turmeric, vitamin D, vitamin E, minerals, fish oil… the list goes on. Are any of them effective? Actually, the question is, “Will any of them be effective in helping YOU prevent a recurrence of your breast cancer?” There are studies that suggest garlic may be helpful. But your healthcare team needs to know if you are taking anything that has not been prescribed. Some supplements may interfere with your medications. And, when it comes to supplements, it is the wild west out there. Since, in general, supplements are not regulated, you cannot know how pure they are or the standards by which they were processed. Check with you physician and/or nutritionist before you start taking supplements.
5. Follow Up and Support.
You’re a survivor! Does that mean you can let down your guard? Absolutely not! A study of 2,754 patients by Johns Hopkins showed that approximately 30 percent of patients skipped follow-up care, including chemo and radiation, increasing their risk of recurrence by 40 percent. Even if you did go through the entire process, you still need regular checkups by your healthcare team.
Also important for living life as a survivor is the support and encouragement of your family, friends, and fellow survivors. You will gain strength and determination by surrounding yourself with positive people with whom you can share your feelings and concerns as you take back your life!